I was reading the latest post on The Art of Hand Lettering earlier and found the stages in the process fascinating, in that I preferred some of the sketches to the end result. I do really like the final logo, but there was something about one of the on-screen workings of the logo that I thought really brought the word alive — it’s the one in the detail I cropped from the article at the bottom right below. There’s something really playful about it, like the rest of the word is being bounced along by the K. Still, that’s my impression and it most likely wasn’t the client’s intention — and that’s the difference between doing stuff for yourself and doing stuff for paying clients!

Handyman’s Modern Manuals

I was having a look through this collection of Popular Science editions on Google Books, and saw this beautiful advertising illustration. Naturally I’ve traced it, but the original ticks so many boxes — it’s hand-drawn, it has a strong sense of dimension, leaping out of the page at you, and the lettering on the banner and especially the price roundel is, like the illustration as a whole, beautifully composed.

My tracing — the detail circle is my own addition, I’d love to see the front of this book properly.

The arrangement of books creates a lovely dance across the page — it’s a shame the type composition of the rest of the advert, while competently done, doesn’t have as much flair. I’d like to know who the illustrator was, and what the front of the books really looked like — I’m fascinated by that little ship illustration and would love to see the whole thing properly. In fact, what are the books like? In an earlier advert there was a hint at some of the cover illustrations, but I’d like to see the ‘real thing’. Anyone out there got some?

Update: Jane of Shelf Appeal sent me a link to this auction on eBay, with a picture of the book. Thanks!

Penmanship of The XVI, XVII & XVIIIth Centuries

I’m sure this set of Google Books scans has gone round the design sites and twitter before, but I’ve only just recently come across it. Pretty much everything in here is beautiful and wonderful to just browse through, but if you’re a student of lettering and calligraphy (and of course, of type) then you’ll find it pretty useful too.

Personally I’ve mixed feelings about swashes and decorative initials, they look gorgeous but rarely seem appropriate to anything except for, well, historical contexts like the ones in this book. Often when I see them I think they look forced — shoved in there because they exist rather than because they add to the design or layout — It’s a real shame because I guess I’m not alone in really wanting to have a project that just calls out for a damn good swash, and yet when I do I start to fret that it’s just starry-eyed wishful thinking overruling good sense (and taste). It could be that I worry too much and should just get the pen out and start slashing away at the page with ink for the hell of it. Well, maybe not slashing as such, but when you look at some of these you get a real sense of the possibilities of drama and enthusiasm; the chance to create some really playful and exciting stuff. Wonderful:

Irina Vinnik

I was looking through this particularly linkbaity article and found the beautiful piece below, Alphabet, by Irina Vinnik. It really reminds me of a couple of books of fables and fairytales I had as a kid — they all had beautifully ornamented capitals at the start of each story and I was completely fascinated by them. I did trace quite a few and spent rather a lot of time trying to draw my own. Sadly I’ve not got any of those early attempts so I can’t see if they were any good or not, but it did get me into a long and happy habit of tracing and redrawing letters and lettering which has been incredibly useful throughout my career. Funny thing with kids, I’ve noticed with friends of mine who have children that shovelling tons and tons of information at them and seeing what sticks seems to be a pretty good strategy. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Make More Money

I saw this a couple of weeks ago and I reminded myself of it with my look-at-me post, then didn’t get around to finish writing about it. I really like Kenn Munk‘s designs, they’ve got a real historical feel to them, and remind me of Civil War-era state and privately-issued money in the US. I like the idea of using stamps to print money yourself — I’d love to have a go. I think the only thing I’d suggest adding is a bit of red somewhere, like a serial number or something, but that might just be because I like black and red in print.

One Hundred Dollars

I guess now and again I can promote some of my own work — hey, it’s what keeps me from writing articles for Ministry of Type all the time, and this piece draws together a number of themes I’ve written about before here so it feels pretty relevant. This is an illustration piece I did for Wired Magazine for their US edition’s cover story, The Future of Money. It’s also appeared in the UK and Italian editions and in GQ magazine in Mexico and South Africa, which I’m pretty thrilled about.

The full illustration.

When creating, or even looking at, a banknote design, one of the first things you realise is their inherent and very deliberate imperfections. There’ll be an apparent mis-registration of colour, a strangely ragged line, a discontinuity in a pattern or an odd serif or ligature on a piece of lettering, but it’s exactly how it was designed. Without it, it wouldn’t be right. The design of banknotes represent something I find gloriously poetic — imperfect perfection — if it was perfect by our usual standards, it would be imperfect. Wonderful. So tried to capture some of that in my design, overlaying colours with an offset, adjusting the lettering a little bit to reflect the kind of oddities on real dollar notes and creating the odd layer of extra guilloche-work barely fine enough to see. I’m glad Wired is well printed and that it all came through.

First off, my favourite, guilloches! Guilloches have an irresistable fascination for me, the finely detailed patterning building on top of itself, over and over, to create anything from complex shaded illustrations or subtle fields of colour, and all you need to do is to look a little closer to get drawn in… wonderful. Fractals have a similar kind of appeal, but there’s more of a craft to creating guilloche patterns, some idea of I made this rather than I discovered this. A subtle distinction for some, but it just gives one an edge over the other in my mind.

The lettering was actually the most time consuming part of the piece. The denomination took some time, but the big bit of work was the multi-layered title. The faces of the letters themselves are shaded with two sets of guilloche patterns, and the 3D effect was done mostly by hand — adjusting for optical clarity and to bring in a few of those all-so-important errors. I toyed with the offsetting on the faces (to create the pale outlines and shadowed cuts) especially as the “R” came out a little strange, with that square cut-off on the inner edge of the outline. I left that for a while and when I came back to it I decided I actually liked it, so it stayed.

The cropping out of the guilloche patterns to create the shading took time to set up and then quite a lot of time for the computer to do the necessary intersections. Anyone who was following my Twitter personal account at the time may have noticed a fair bit of bitching about Illustrator’s pathfinder tools, often spitting out “The filter produced no results” after 10 or so minutes of thinking, which generally drives me to use Photoshop’s vector tools for stuff: they have their deficiences, but they do the job without Illustrator’s tedious whining errors. It took 30 minutes of it thinking about it, but it got there in the end. It seemed a bit easier the second time around, when I did the localised title for Wired Italy, though sadly no quicker.

The circular pattern of cubes I did using Google Sketchup, which I’ve been using a fair bit to create another piece (which may be a poster one day), outputting it as an EPS and then going over it in Illustrator changing all the outlines to the right thicknesses and colours, then doing it again for the offset colour overlays. Fun times.

It was great to be able to use many of the ideas I’d explored before and have to make them work together in a full commercial piece. It’s fun when you’re given a brief like this, and pretty exciting seeing your work printed in a magazine.

More, please.

Make The Type Bigger

I’ve been thinking for a little while that the text on Ministry of Type is maybe a tad too small, making me guilty (perhaps) of that terrible designers’ conceit, small type syndrome. I’ve been designing sites for clients lately with much larger text, around the 13-15pt range, and coming back to my own site with its small text gives me a bit of a jolt. So here goes, bigger text, and a switch to FF Dagny Web Pro from FontFont, delivered via Typekit. I like FF Dagny a lot for its own characteristics, but I have to admit I’m fond of it too because it reminds me of Univers and Folio. Of course, if either of those two Linotype faces were ever to be available for online embedding (ice-skating through Hades, anyone?) there’s no guarantee they’d actually work well in the browser anyway. Perhaps right now type designers at Linotype are working on web versions of their entire back catalogue?

Oh, and yes, I was thinking of this when I wrote the title.

The Elastic Mind

I was browsing through the AIGA Design Archives and was attracted right away to this book cover for Design and the Elastic Mind. Irma Boom designed the cover and the beautiful lettering was done by Daniël Maarleveld, you can see more of his lettering and some background info here (thanks to Sean Kelly for the info). I’ve been experimenting with creating letters from guilloches, so I wanted to look a bit closer at how the designer had done these. It’s pretty interesting, though I’m guessing it’s software filling paths with a basic guilloche than any kind of mathematical derivation of the letters themselves. It’s still very attractive and effective, and I’m wondering what software was used to make it — exploring Excentro I’ve not seen any path-filling options — so I shall ask.

I had a look round for more info on the book, and found that it’s supporting an exhibition of the same name at MOMA. There’s a website devoted to it including this Flash ‘interactive’ thing, which grandly introduces itself thus:

The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and history—changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior—and translate them into objects that people can actually understand and use.

Now, after a while poking around on the site I can say that it’s somewhat lacking in that regard. The typography is unremittingly dreary; a set of very long lists set in microscopic low-contrast text with odd arrows that imply function but give none, bullets all over the place and thoroughly opaque labelling of everything. There’s an animated overlay that briefly shows images from the extended info for each of the list entries (which of course obscures the title and brief intro to it), and traces lines to other things that it’s apparently related to. You can click each of the things and find some actual interesting information in there, and some really nice imagery, but the sense of confusion never really goes away, you’re left with questions — where am I in the site, what is this, what are these connections for and about? If the intention is to show that there’s loads of stuff out there, that it’s hard to read and that finding out about any of it is an onerous task and that following the connections between things is baffling and involves you having to do work to even find out what it is and is connected to, then the site is a blinding success. And what is it with those arrows?

Shame really, because the book cover is quite lovely.

Schriftguss AG

Kris Sowersby tweeted a link to this specimen page, and it’s quite lovely. I wonder how much whoever made it was intending it to be a play on words for English readers - gutrot being anything but good in English, and you’d certainly hope that you didn’t encounter anything red as a direct result of it. As it were. Possibly. Probably not though. It’s a lovely page, but all the others are worth having a look through - specimen books are always good for time travelling a few hours into the future. Shame there’s not more pages in the set, though I recalled (somehow) that Martin Schröder had posted up some pictures of a Schriftguss AG specimen book, amongst other things.

The Principality of Liechtenstein

This post falls squarely into an imaginary new-to-me category, as it’s apparently been around since 2004 and I’ve never ever seen it before. I’m not sure how, I’m convinced I’ve looked at stuff related to Liechtenstein in the last 6 years, and this is exactly the kind of thing I like. So yes, the other day I was emailed a link to the portal of The Principality of Liechtenstein with a message to have a look at their ‘new’ brand (I think my correspondent may have seen it here on Creative Roots). I’m wondering whether the brand just hasn’t been promoted much — or maybe I’ve just missed it. That website doesn’t do it any favours that’s for sure. Anyway, big surprise: it turns out the brand was designed by Wollf Olins, so I can only assume that their work from 2004 must predate whatever decision they made to push ugly and huh? as brand virtues, as this is rather lovely.

The type is essentially made from dots (an idea I love) and this presents a nice twist on that, using stages on a morph between a flower and a star, theoretically including a circle as one of the steps. According to the brand documentation, the flower represents the agrarian roots of the Principality, the circle is the financial side and the star is ‘industry’. I’m a little unconvinced by that, as I’m pretty sure that industry wasn’t the endpoint in Liechtenstein’s development, nor was finance merely a step along the way. Perhaps it’s best thought of as a device to indicate the range of things you can find in Liechtenstein. Regardless of that, it makes for a pretty story and an attractive logo. The overall effect is of something encrusted in diamonds (or at least Swarovski crystals), though looking at it again I’m reminded a little of early-20th Century theatre illuminations, the old ‘name in lights’ thing. Certainly the associations are of glamour and wealth, which seems to suit the Principality just fine.

The crown is a nice touch as well, and if I’m honest was what caught my eye at first — one of the perils of using a crown as your own logo I guess. Again, as is apparently unavoidable with country branding, the elements of the crown have particular meaning related to aspects of how Liechtenstein would like you to think it thinks of itself as having (sorry). Made of symbols for nature, dialogue, finance, industry and rootedness the crown works well and forms a recognisable little device when used on its own or with the abbreviated LI mark. The component symbols are used across brochures and other materials as a rather refreshingly retro pattern. I doubt I’m alone in being reminded of 1970s wallpaper, but all in all it works well and compliments the other decorative elements — the flowers, mountains, trees and (especially) that nice illustration of Vaduz Castle.